What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra)

0 Comments

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It’s the end of the beginning of IndyCar 2015 this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, the second road course race of the season for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Here’s what to look for in today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra):

FOUR-FOR-FOUR?

After Juan Pablo Montoya, James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon, there’s pretty good chance of a fourth different driver becoming the fourth different winner in as many races this season. And fittingly, four of the top five on the grid are vying to be that single fourth.

Polesitter Helio Castroneves and Will Power make up the front row and look for their second and third Barber wins, respectively. Meanwhile teammate Simon Pagenaud seeks his first win as a member of Team Penske from P3 on the grid, and rising star Josef Newgarden looks for his first overall from P5.

Sixth through ninth (Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal and Luca Filippi) would also be the fourth different winner in as many races here. However, only once has the winner started outside the top three, Power from ninth in 2012 (third, first, ninth, first and third have been the starting positions of winners the previous five Barber races).

BATTLE OF THE MARCHING THREE-LETTER ACRONYMS

JPM and RHR will be the two to watch after rough qualifying outings on Saturday.

Montoya starts from P15, and Ryan Hunter-Reay from P18 as they look to carve through the field, or at least salvage something of their days. It will likely take a strategy play from either or both of them to make it into win contention.

CHANGING TRACK CONDITIONS

Both practice sessions were cool and overcast today, before the beat-the-clock style qualifying later Saturday afternoon. It was a hectic day from start to finish.

However with a warmer, sunnier day expected for Sunday, it remains to be seen whose car will work better in the different conditions. Rare are warmups that important, but today’s certainly fit the bill. Dixon led the way ahead of Power, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Kanaan.

SLEEPERS, ROOKIES AND COMEBACKS?

Any non-Penske or Ganassi podium-finishing drivers – given five of the top six on the grid are from those two teams – would be surprising.

Newgarden would be a popular podium finisher if he can pull it off, while a Rahal or Filippi podium could be possible if the strategy works out.

Elsewhere watch Ganassi’s two American drivers, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam, who roll off from 11th and 12th and could factor into things. Kimball is something of a Barber specialist and Karam, who injured his wrist in a testing accident here last month, is making progress after a ragged two races to open his season.

The other driver to watch is Marco Andretti, who is another solid Barber driver but had another challenging qualifying effort. He’ll start 13th.

Honda drivers desperately need a good race in their sponsored race, but it might be tough sledding. Chevrolet drivers have 10 of the top 12 grid positions and in the dry, Honda’s drivers have seemed to have little to match.

STARTING GRID

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.